Is Federal Mandate to Review Juvenile Sentencing Being Ignored?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in two different cases that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles who have been convicted of homicide to mandatory life sentences with no chance for parole. The Court ruled that the brains of teenagers are not yet fully developed, giving them a chance at rehabilitation. The Court recognized that these types of sentences are cruel and unusual punishments.

The state of Florida passed their own version of these rulings in 2014. Florida law requires that any juvenile that has been sentenced to life is entitled to have their sentencing reviewed, even if there was a possibility of parole included in the original sentence. The law requires each sentence be reviewed by a judge after so many years served (15, 20, or 25). The number of years is mandated by the type of crime committed. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that this law also applies to any juvenile offenders sentenced before the law was passed.

These rulings affect approximately 600 Florida inmates, however, the majority of them are still waiting for resentencing. In fact, there have only been about 85 homicide and 80 non-homicide offenders who have been resentenced.

The cause of the delays in resentencing is blamed on lack of funds. There is just not enough money for public defenders and prosecutors to reexamine these cases quickly. Public defenders did put in a request to lawmakers to appropriate $8 million to enable sentencing reviews, but lawmakers rejected that request. One lawmaker did say that money is budgeted for the process, but at this time, they don’t see it as a crisis issue requiring that amount of funding.

Other delaying factors include the system that prosecutors have put in place to deal with mandated reviews, as well as the issues the courts have in determining which sentences are legally compliant with all the rulings.

Attorney Leifert is troubled by the lack of progress that is being made in reviewing teen offender cases. “There have been two Supreme Court rulings, as well as a state law passed mandating these reviews. Although lawmakers may not feel this is a “crisis issue” there are 600 juvenile offenders whose rights are being ignored.”

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